Senators Agree Science Is Key

2017-11-30T15:29:48+00:00 October 30, 2017|
 (Credit: NOAA)

(Click to enlarge) (Credit: NOAA)

What It Was

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing on the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA; P.L 109-479) reauthorization on Tuesday titled “Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act: Fisheries Science.”

Why It Matters

The MSA, the nation’s primary law to regulate commercial and recreational fisheries, has enabled rebuilding of numerous U.S. fish stocks and decreased overfishing. Over the last 41 years, science-based management has played an increasingly important role, which should continue with this reauthorization.

Key Points

Subcommittee members were in bipartisan agreement on the importance of science in managing U.S. fisheries and praised the successes of the MSA in reducing overfished populations (depleted stocks) and overfishing (excessive capture). The main topics discussed were cost of research and innovation, types of data, advances in technology, and monitoring seafood importation.

Senators and witnesses acknowledged that research and technology are important and expensive practices, and Democrats voiced the need for government funding for science. Dr. Ray Hilborn (Professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences) testified he believes NOAA is doing the best it can with the money available and that any lack of data is the result of limited resources (e.g. time, money, and staff).

Catch limits have played a key role in recovering stocks; however, current models do not account for environmental variability that affects fisheries, such as ocean acidification, climate change, and sea level rise. All witnesses agreed that future management plans need to include these types of environmental data, and they should come from sources beyond NOAA. Suggested factors to measure included sea level, water temperature, migration patterns, real-time catch information, and invasive species impacts.

Statements and testimonies noted that technology has the potential to improve data collection and dissemination of information. Senator Roger Wicker (MS) proudly spoke of state efforts to improve data collection in recreational fisheries through mobile phone applications. Dr. Hilborn believes stakeholder involvement is “a wonderful thing” but cautioned that citizen science is not the “silver bullet” to managing our fisheries and determining reliability of data sources is crucial.

Senators Blumenthal and Edward Markey (MA) presented three problems with the U.S. importing 90 percent of seafood: imported seafood regularly comes from unsustainable sources, consumers often can’t determine its origin, and the money spent overseas is not helping the U.S. fishing economy. Senator Markey is hopeful that NOAA’s seafood import monitoring program, combined with technology to distribute information to consumers, will help seafood purchasers make informed decisions and will promote local seafood consumption.


“It should be of news to nobody that data doesn’t come cheaply and that while NOAA stretches its limited budget the best that it can, [NOAA] is only able to grab a small snapshot of the status and health of the biomass of our oceans.” – Chairman Dan Sullivan (AK)

“The best thing is that science and research never stop… New technologies and advancements will continue to improve [fisheries] management outcomes.” – Ranking member Gary Peters (MI)

“Ecological science tells us that these species should not all be managed in the same way. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach to fisheries management does not work well and risks managing some fisheries overly conservatively while others suffer from regulations that are too liberal.” – Dr. Michael Jones (Professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center)

“We have the science-based tools with which to manage our recreational fisheries but lack the legislative framework within which we can apply them.” – Dr. Larry McKinney (Director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico)

Next Steps

The committee will proceed with the reauthorization process, taking testimonies from dozens of experts from all hearings into consideration.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

NOAA Seafood Import Monitoring Program

Witness Testimonies:

  • Karl Haflinger (Founder and President, Sea State, Inc)
  • Ray Hilborn (Professor, University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences)
  • Michael Jones (Professor, Michigan State University Quantitative Fisheries Center)
  • Larry McKinney (Director, Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico)

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership